Cambodia's Top Trade Union Backs Opposition in Polls

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Garment factory workers block a section of the National Highway Two in Phnom Penh to demand higher wages and better working conditions, June 19, 2013.

Cambodia’s Free Trade Union (FTU), one of the biggest unions in the country, threw its weight Monday behind the largest opposition party ahead of upcoming elections, citing the party's commitment to raising the minimum wage for factory workers.

Union representatives from 37 factories and enterprises met Monday to discuss the differences between the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) in preparation for the July 28 national polls.

Out of 79 participants representing the 100,000 FTU union members across the country, 76 voted in support of CNRP policies, while only three backed the CPP, FTU President Chea Mony told RFA’s Khmer Service.

The FTU represents workers in the garment industry, the country's biggest employer and key export earner.

“They have decided that they will vote for the [Cambodia] National Rescue Party because they want a fair minimum wage,” Chea Mony said.

In March, the CNRP proposed a minimum monthly wage of U.S. $150 for garment workers and U.S. $250 for civil servants., the newly formed opposition party announced at a press conference yesterday.

In the same month, the government announced a higher minimum wage of U.S. $80 per month for garment and footwear workers. There is no minimum salary as such for civil servants, who are largely exempt from the country’s labor laws.


“The workers love the CNRP because the party was established through a merger between the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party (HRP), and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) has helped the workers since 1997,” Chea Mony said.

The HRP and the SRP decided to join forces under the CNRP last year to contest Hun Sen’s heavily favored CPP in Cambodia’s July elections.

The CNRP is led by exiled leader Sam Rainsy, who was  granted a royal pardon on Friday by King Sihamoni last week and plans to return to Cambodia on Friday.

Despite the pardon, which annuls his 11-year jail sentence for offences widely believed to be politically motivated, Sam Rainsy has been barred by the National Election Committee from taking part in the polls because his name has been removed from the electoral register.

The FTU has traditionally been viewed as a pro-opposition organization following the assassination of its former president, and Chea Mony’s older brother, Chea Vichea in 2004. Chea Vichea, who had close ties with the SRP, was shot dead by an unknown assailant while reading a newspaper at a stand in Phnom Penh.

But observers have suggested that rifts within the FTU in recent years had led to Chea Mony increasingly aligning himself with the CPP to solidify his power. Chea Mony has repeatedly denied any ties to the CPP.

President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association Rong Chhun recently split from the FTU, accusing Chea Mony of being “too soft.”

CPP support

Meanwhile, CPP-affiliated unions have called on their members to campaign for the party in Phnom Penh with around 15,000 members from the National Union Councils taking to the capital’s streets on Sunday.

National Union Councils President Som Oun told RFA that the union workers had decided to back the CPP because the party had “liberated the country, and created peace, political stability and development.”

“These are positive results that the workers have been working for,” he said. “The workers have jobs and they send cash to their families in the provinces.”

Reported by Samnang Rann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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